Friday, September 05, 2008


Pay check

Via Transblawg recently a Sunday Times article on a supposed shortage of into-English translators as bemoaned by the European Commission. Echoing an earlier Guardian piece on a shortage of into-English interpreters (sneered at here).

The Commission is a somewhat recent convert to the joys of market economics and perhaps not everybody there has yet mastered the basic principles. For as any economics student knows, there is no such thing as a shortage. As explained here, for example:
Any potential deficit in supply is always removed by some increase in price, and any potential surplus is removed by a fall in the price, there always being some price which the market will clear
But the Commission (and its sister institutions) have responded to just such a "potential deficit in supply" (of interpreters) by reducing the price: a cut in the effective rate of pay for newcomers to the profession kicked in this week.

I see that a commenter on Transblawg describes the pay rates for EU translators as "astronomical". Judge for yourself (permanent staff salaries).

The daily rate for freelance interpreters, which is calibrated on a certain point of the staff scale, is here. Nett of deductions and adding back pension contributions it comes to about €500 (for experienced interpreters, and 72% of that for beginners).

Once you move on to the full rate there is no further progression, so the interpreter with decades of experience and a raft of languages doesn't get a cent more than the colleague next console with the bare minimum.

The best (and worst) paying jobs in the US can be found here. Those in the UK here and here. No sign of translators or interpreters anywhere.

There are two points of economics worth bearing in mind.

1. The "shortage" of interpreters refers only to EN mother-tongue interpreters whereas the EU market rates are negotiated for all interpreters regardless of language. This is a point of principle (solidarity) that is unlikely to change anytime soon.
So while EN is in short supply, DK, IT and PT interpreters are not and they might object to higher pay if they thought it meant even less work for them.

2. Mr Benedetti (Director General of the Commission's Interpreting service)'s comments, in the article you quote, about non-native EN speakers in the EN booth mean that the Commission is thinking about tackling the economics of the situation differently. Instead of raising price, which would reduce the amount of interpreter days paid for, the Commission (which can't just not provide interpreter days to its meetings) may move the supply curve to the right (increasing quantity and reducing price) by swelling the ranks of EN natives with non-natives. Something that is already underway, if only on a small scale.
Solidarity is a factor of course but the underlying constraint is budgetary. They are not going to get the same quality for less and it would be better for them to accept that reality and make the point to their budget masters instead of this disingenuous nonsense about some general decline in native-speaker English out in the real world.

As for non-natives, I'm not sure how relevant that is. The English booth has always been open to non-natives - I worked with one in the booth today - provided they meet the requisite standard. Any move to increase the number of non-natives per se can only mean a lowering of that standard and hence, other things being equal, a reduction in the quality of the service.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?